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Marianne Moore’s Tone Technologies: Elocution, Poetry, Phonograph

“Still Able to Make Sounds”: American Poetry on Record

In a letter written on August 30, 1964, Marianne Moore recounts listening to an old recording of her poem, “Rigorists,” that was playing that night on the BBC. “We had dinner at a little Greek Casa Blanca (very near) but stayed up late to hear me on the BBC—on a borrowed transistor,” Moore writes to her friend Hildegard Watson.[1] In the letter, Moore compares her recorded voice to the sound of a bird recently crushed by an automobile: “I sounded like a sparrow suddenly run over,” she wrote, “still able to make sounds.” By likening her poetic voice to that of an injured bird, Moore merges Philomela’s mythic trauma with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s portrait of the poet as a nightingale, who “sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds” and provides “his auditors” with “the melody of an unseen musician.”[2] Modifying Shelley’s remark to offer a representation of the poet better suited to the conditions of modern mass culture, Moore demonstrates the potentially lethal effects of mechanized mass media on lyric poetry. The BBC radio broadcast, as both a figure for mass culture and a literal voice technology, has destroyed the vitality of lyric poetry in two ways: first, it has made lyric poetry into a minor part of majority culture; second, it has severed the poet’s voice from the poet’s living body—so that even the poet herself has become an estranged auditor, listening to an acousmatic voice separated from its source.

However, this essay tunes into an alternate wavelength in order to register the elocutionary and phonographic past that underlies Moore’s mode of listening to her own recorded poem on the BBC.[3] Moore’s remark reveals not only the uncanny experience of listening to a voice temporally and physically separated from the body via sound recording technology, but also a distinctly transnational listening practice, wherein her ear is separated from her poetic “voice” by the Atlantic Ocean. This transatlantic poetic circuit evokes Moore’s early twentieth-century elocutionary instruction at Bryn Mawr, where students were taught to speak according to British elocutionary standards and for international cultural and political purposes.[4] Reading Moore’s essay on poetics, “The Accented Syllable,” and her poem, “England,” alongside two technologies of voicing, the phonograph recording and the elocution lesson, this essay traces not only how these technologies inform Moore’s own poetic practice, but also asserts that Moore’s poetry is itself a voice technology—a means of inscribing, altering, and producing the “tone” of American speech.[5]

Critics have tended to focus more on Moore’s interest in visual arts and media than they have on her engagement with sound.[6] By attending to Moore’s fascination with “tone,” however, I seek to demonstrate how Moore bridges Thomas Edison’s 1915 “Tone Tests” and I. A. Richards’s influential literary-critical definition of the term “tone” in his 1929 Practical Criticism, which helped set the stage for what Herbert Tucker identifies as the transition from “lyrically expressive to dramatically objective norms for reading” inculcated by New Criticism.[7] Just as Edison’s “Tone Tests” staged the phonograph’s separation of sound from source, New Critical pedagogical methods staged the separation of poetic “voices” from human speakers and their contexts. By understanding vocal technologies not, or not only, as threatening embodied poetic voices, but also as facilitating a different kind of poetic voicing, one that was documentable, objective, and circulatory, Moore anticipates New Criticism’s separation of literary speech from source, using sound recording as a vehicle by which to simultaneously challenge and authorize an American poetic tradition.

“An American Chameleon on an American Leaf”

For nearly as long as it has been in print, Moore’s poetry has been cited as both example and evidence of an American poetic tradition. In 1917, Ezra Pound writes that Marianne Moore and the British Mina Loy “have written a distinctly national product,” and produced “something distinctly American in quality.”[8] In a 1923 review, T. S. Eliot echoes Pound assessment, adding that Moore’s poetry is American in quality primarily because of its mixed style. He attributes this style to the American university system, writing that Moore employs “the curious jargon produced in America by the universal university education,” and thereby captures a distinctly American language which involves “both the jargon of the laboratory and the slang of the comic strip.”[9] That Moore’s poetry captures something crucial about the mixed style of American English—a language made up of both common “slang” and scientific “jargon,” and a language rooted in the American university system—has become something of a commonplace since the time of Eliot’s review.[10]

Moore, however, was ambivalent about the very existence of an American poetic tradition, let alone her place in it. In a 1938 questionnaire for Twentieth Century Verse, when asked whether a representative American poetry existed, Moore responded, “American poetry is distinct from English poetry . . . but this is an anomaly, much to be deplored . . . I do not see that there can be a distinctive poetry without a distinctive rhythm, such as one has in Irish, Russian, or Spanish music, or in American-Indian tribal or African tribal Music.”[11] When the interviewer next asked whether she considered herself part of an American poetic tradition, she answered, somewhat contradictorily, “Yes; as implied above, an American chameleon on an American leaf” (Complete Prose, 675). Moore’s first objection, which uses nationally or culturally representative sound to highlight the incoherence of American poetry initially seems to take aim at American dialect poetry. As critics like Gavin Jones, Joshua Miller, and Michael North have shown, American authors were eager to experiment with dialect speech in literary form, whether they were using dialect to signal “linguistic authenticity,” engage with contemporary language politics, or probe the relationship between race, language, and modernism.[12] By resisting standard language through their use of dialect, Moore’s comment implies, these poets made American poetry into merely another linguistic aberration from a British norm.

However, in her dismissal of American poetry, Moore is concerned less with speech than music: she points to American poetry’s lack of a distinctive rhythm.[13] In this way, Moore evokes an early twentieth-century phonograph culture that made the representative, “distinctive rhythm[s]” of various ethnic groups available as mass-produced and -circulated goods. In his Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution, Michael Denning describes how the electrical gramophone facilitated the recording of many “local musics” in a variety of port cities between 1925 and 1930, creating a “vernacular music revolution” prompted by the circulation of cheap phonograph records.[14] This revolution was characterized by a slew of new “music idioms,” Denning notes, including “son, rumba, samba, tango, jazz, calypso, beguine, fado, flamenco, tzigane, rebetika, tarab, marabi, kroncong, [and] hula” (Noise Uprising, 2).[15] Similarly, Lisa Gitelman argues that the medium of the phonograph itself helped facilitate this revolution, writing that “phonograph records were the first widely available, mass-produced goods categorized according to ethnicity and national origin,” and suggesting that, “their physical quality as standardized, mass-produced goods . . . helped to enforce their quality as specific cultural data, even as the culture they represented proved variable and unspecific in the extreme.”[16] Understood this way, a representative (or “distinctive”) rhythm circulated via phonograph records could create, rather than merely replicate, a cultural identity, producing a consolidated ethnonational identity in circulation that did not (and could not) exist in reality. In Gitelman’s view, the early twentieth-century “experience of playing records and consuming the various conventions of recording . . . turned the new medium of recorded sound into ‘something like the first global vernacular,’” creating local identities based not only on “where [people] are or are from” but also on “their relationships to media representations of localism and its fate” (Always Already New, 17).[17] Together, both Gitelman and Denning provide insight into an early twentieth-century phonograph culture that made “vernacular” music into global currency; American music—presumably too large and diffuse a category to contain on a single phonograph label or record—could not take part in this global production and exchange of “local” identities. Moore applies this same logic to the problem of American poetry. Until American poetry, like ethnically categorized phonograph records, could record a representative distinctive rhythm and thereby circulate it, it could not yet be said to exist.

However, Moore’s second remark, wherein she identifies herself as an “American chameleon on an American leaf,” complicates the logic of her first. If Moore is an “American” chameleon because she resides on an “American” leaf, then American poetic identity is a mere function of the writer’s geographical location. If, however, Moore’s chameleon is American because it changes its color to match the American leaf, then her identity as an “American” poet derives from her ability to replicate a certain “American” color. By this logic, a poet is American based on her ability to replicate unspecified American qualities in a manner rather similar to how a phonograph record replicates certain ethnonational identities. Moreover, because the chameleon-poet adjusts its color to match a leaf, itself something that changes color, Moore emphasizes that the American poet, the American poetic tradition, and the nation itself are all entities in constant flux. As Moore’s earlier mention of the “distinctive rhythms” of the musical traditions of other cultures hinted, the status of American poetry, and her own place within it, hinged on controlling this threatening mutability via sonic means. Moore would attempt to demonstrate how poetry might exert this control in two of her early works focused on creating a written “tone of voice”: first, in her 1916 essay on poetics, “The Accented Syllable,” and second in her 1919 poem, “England.”

The Accented Syllable

By the time that Moore matriculated at Bryn Mawr in 1905, Americans had long been preoccupied with how the “tone” of American voices, particularly American women’s voices, compared with those of their British and European counterparts. Throughout the nineteenth century, American nationalists consistently linked women’s speech tone with national culture. As Amy Dunham Strand outlines, this focus became only more pronounced at the turn of the century, when women began to play a more public role in American society.[18] During this time, a variety of manners manuals were published that linked women’s tone and pronunciation to the advancement of American civilization and acculturation. Harper’s Bazar ran a series of essays on the matter, including a three-part piece by Henry James on the subject of women’s speech and an article entitled “Our Daily Speech” by William Dean Howells, which suggested that women should “speak as [they] sang.”[19] The concern with the tone of women’s voices was not limited only to their speech, however: as Gitelman explains, because soprano voices were difficult to capture accurately, even the phonograph record was evaluated based on how successfully it could record female voices.[20]

The emphasis on women’s speaking tone would have been particularly pronounced at Bryn Mawr during Moore’s time there. Just a few months before Moore matriculated, Henry James gave his now infamous address, “The Question of Our Speech”—a precursor to his essays in Harper’s—which cast American women’s speech as an international marker of American culture.[21] Although elocution instruction had been instituted at Bryn Mawr as part of the curriculum in 1902, James’s address further underscored the importance of that instruction.[22] Moore’s British elocution teacher at Bryn Mawr, Samuel Arthur King, for example, cites James’s address explicitly in his 1907 elocution book, when he declares that “Our manner of speech, the most vital element of our education, has been allowed, as Mr. Henry James said in a recent address at Bryn Mawr, to ‘run wild,’” before quoting James at length.[23]

In his address, James demonstrates particular concern with how an American lack of what he called a “tone-standard” affects how American culture is heard abroad.[24] In James’s view, it is the tone of voice, not the voice itself nor, perhaps even more surprisingly, what that voice says, that communicates the civility and culture of a nation. The employment of the voice, which is to say, the “tone” of that voice, has “made not only the history of the voice, but positively the history of the national character, almost the history of the people” (“The Question,” 51). For James, the speech tone of American women is not only a marker of American culture abroad, however, but of the utmost importance within the nation as well, because women are the primary educators of school children and immigrants; James later names the “academy” the “field over which the voice of the American women resounds.”[25] For James, the unstandardized status of American women’s speech—which he frequently compares to animal noises, noting that it is “as little distinct as possible from the grunting, the squealing, the barking or the roaring of animals”—matters not only because of its connection to polite conversation, and, hence, the international status of American culture, but also because it is the voice of education that will work to standardize the speech of a nation of American immigrants who speak in a variety of different accents and who create a variety of American Englishes, a point argued by Strand (“The Question,” 46).[26] American women’s speech thus needed to be standardized in order to perform two functions: it needed to be internationally representative (of the nation and its culture) as well as domestically prescriptive, insofar as it is the language in which various students, particularly immigrants, would be educated and thus eventually speak.

James’s ideas about the international circulation of women’s speech have generated substantial critical attention. Gavin Jones, for instance, has traced James’s fascination with American speech in both his prose and fiction to a British context that is particularly class-oriented, while Merve Emre has suggested that, by teaching female readers to “speak like a book,” James made “gendered literary practices” into a matter of “national importance,” ultimately teaching “[l]isteners and readers” that they “could not only learn to speak like a book—a novel written by Henry James—but [that] they could also transform their acts of spoken communication into nationally representative works of art.”[27] While Emre pinpoints the particular constellation of literature, speech, and international communication that emerges within James’s address, one wonders: what would it mean to “speak like a book”? What does a book sound like? Although, readers could strive to imitate turns of phrase, syntax, diction, and other stylistic and linguistic elements from novels within their own speech, no straightforward process of imitation could properly reform the sound of readers’ voices, their “tone,” which is the primary focus of James’s address. In her 1916 essay “The Accented Syllable,” Moore would attempt to make James’s vision a reality by making poetry, and other literature employing “accented” syllables, into a precise technology by which to capture and transmit the sound of speech, transforming readers into not human imitators but exact sound re/producers.

In “The Accented Syllable,” Moore posits that literature is capable of inscribing the sonic elements of speech, particularly a certain “tone of voice.” Throughout the essay, Moore betrays a keen interest in how questions of accent, both on and off the page, relate to the written “tone of voice” that she describes. Because Moore is a poet known for her use of syllabic verse—wherein poetic form is determined by the total number of syllables per line (stressed or unstressed) rather than by stressed (or “accented”) syllables—her interest in accent in this essay is particularly surprising. Reading Moore with an attention to accent, however, reveals the sonic countercurrent at work in her poetry, a countercurrent that often works against the unconventional line breaks and visual form of her syllabic verse by inscribing the distinctive rhythms of speech.

Moore begins the essay by arguing that a piece of writing’s “tone of voice” complements its meaning, defining a “tone of voice” as “that intonation in which the accents which are responsible for it are so unequivocal as to persist, no matter under what circumstances the syllables are read or by whom they are read” (Complete Prose, 32). A literary work’s “accents”—its stressed syllables—thus create a written “tone of voice” that faithfully transmits the material sound of a spoken “tone of voice” to the reader. In this way, Moore makes literature itself into a voice technology that at once inscribes speech sound and re/produces it. Later in the essay, however, Moore suggests that certain accents threaten the text’s written “tone of voice”: “Often the recital of a passage is termed monotonous . . . and it is made up of an infinite number of varied accents; if an author’s written tone of voice is distinctive, a reader’s speaking tone of voice will not obliterate it” (32). Moore’s immutable literary “accents” (the stressed syllables inscribed in a piece of poetry or prose) notably seek to control spoken and “varied” accents (the different vocal pronunciations) of her diverse American readers. For Moore, “varied” accents risk “obliterating” the literary work’s transmission of an intrinsic, written tone; in order to eliminate this risk, the text must “obliterate” its readers’ accents first. And it is worth noting that this violent suppression of diverse accents was something with which Moore was intimately familiar. Shortly before writing “The Accented Syllable,” Moore had worked at the Carlisle Indian School, where Native American students were coerced, often using physical force, to speak standard English.[28]

Regardless of whether Moore’s literary technology would work in practice (which is to say nothing of whether Moore really sought to “solve” the problem of varied American accents in her essay or merely playfully exacerbate it), by casting literature as a means of both inscribing and re/producing “tone,” Moore makes poetry into a technology that functions similarly to the phonograph. Gitelman has shown that the first phonographs were conceived of and understood via the technologies of reading and writing—it was nineteenth-century shorthand systems that inspired and guided Edison’s invention, and the language of inscription that helped consumers to understand the device.[29] However, although Edison’s phonograph made inscriptions that were “tangible, portable, and immutable,” unlike books and other printed media, “they were also illegible. No person could read recordings in the way a person reads handwritten scrawls, printed pages, or musical notes, or even the way a person examines a photograph or drawing to glean its meaning” (Gitelman, Always Already New, 18). By making the poem into a read/write sound device, Moore places the poem in competition with the phonograph. However, in Moore’s formulation, the reader and literary text work together as a sort of fused medium; it is crucially unclear whether the text makes itself read in the reader’s voice, or whether the reader re/produces the text’s tone of voice through some agency of her own. In other words, in order to make the text function analogously to the phonograph, as a machine for sound writing and reading, Moore creates a confusion of agency between text and reader that ultimately underlines the instability inherent in the production and circulation of American speech, inscribed or otherwise. That instability derives from the sound and accents of reader’s actual voices.

In her essay’s focus on inscribing not just any sound, but specifically a certain “tone of voice,” Moore invokes a similar contemporary phonographic project engaged with the reproduction of a certain “tone”: the Edison Company’s tone test demonstrations, wherein audiences were tasked with differentiating between the voice of a live singer, hidden from view, and a recording of her voice played on the phonograph.[30] Between 1915 and 1925, as Jonathan Sterne details, the Edison Company put on thousands of these demonstrations to millions of listeners.[31] Edison had long sought to naturalize the mimetic possibilities of the phonograph, imagining that it might be used for the teaching of elocution or the preservation of languages, and he had also used public performances to testify to the magic and mimetic power of the phonograph since its inception.[32] However, as Sterne argues, the tone tests sought to prove something different to audiences: “While the earlier demonstrations simply had to convince audiences that the machines worked at all, the tone tests expressly sought to establish for their audiences an equivalency between live performance and a sound recording” (The Audible Past, 261, emphasis in original). By blurring the line between live performance and recording, he suggests, the tone tests brought them “together as equals,” “two species of the same practice” (262–63, emphasis in original). Steve Wurtzler makes a similar argument. In 1915, as Wurtzler describes, Edison ran an advertisement that claimed that 300 phonograph experts were “incapable of distinguishing between sounds produced by Belgian singer Alice Verlet and the ‘re-creation’ of her voice with the New Edison Phonograph” (Electric Sounds, 124). By using words like “human, life-like, natural” to describe phonographic sound, Wurtlzer suggests, the advertisement transformed the phonograph into “nature itself. It was artist in all but form” (quoted on 124, emphasis in original). In making the phonograph synonymous with artistic creation, the Edison Company’s tone tests, like Moore’s essay, thereby place the phonograph and art, and hence literature, into competition with one another, casting the phonograph as an artistic rather than mimetic technology. That is to say, these tone tests emphasized that the phonograph did not simply reproduce reality as it was; it created it.[33] In “The Accented Syllable,” Moore makes the poem into a similarly precise tone-transmitting and re/producing technology, using the logic of the phonograph to settle Jamesian elocutionary concerns and transform poetry into a vehicle for transmitting a “distinctive rhythm” in the process. By transmitting, circulating, and, like the phonograph, creating a distinctively American rhythm, American poetry could thereby become a self-authorizing voice technology—provided, of course, that it could settle on a certain “distinctive rhythm” to transmit.

Just over a decade later, I.A. Richards would make a written “tone” integral to the practice of literary criticism when, in his 1929 Practical Criticism, he separated literature from its historical and social context in order to transform it into a form of staged communication. In Practical Criticism, Richards establishes the key elements of literary communication, creating a literary “speaker” whose statements reveal four types of meaning: “sense,” “feeling,” “intention,” and “tone.” Like Moore, Richards uses the idea of a written “tone” to invoke the relationship between speaker and audience and writer and reader, suggesting that tone betrays the speaker’s “attitude to his listener” and his “recognition of his relation to them.”[34] However, in order to define tone in this way, Richards neglects tone’s affective dimensions, as Sianne Ngai has noted. For Ngai, Richards’s conception of tone works to “divorce emotion from tone.”[35] As an antidote to Richards’s “limited definition,” Ngai proposes a different understanding of tone, defining it instead as “a global and hyper-relational concept of feeling that encompasses attitude: a literary text’s affective bearing, orientation, or ‘set toward’ its audience and its world” (Ugly Feelings, 41, 43, emphasis in original). In Ngai’s reading, tone as “global . . . feeling” functions much like noise or static, a “form of surplus resonance or feedback that intensifies engagement with the aesthetic object” (43, 80, emphasis in original). However, it is precisely Richards’s limited (and static-free) definition of tone that elucidates Moore’s own narrow conception of a written “tone of voice.” By abstracting tone from its social, sonic, and human context, Richards made literature into a written technology that could isolate dramatic speech from living subject in much the same way that Edison’s phonograph tone tests had staged the separation of sound from its living source. Moore’s written “tone of voice” functions similarly, imagining that immutable—and, perhaps, unvocalizable—literary accents might mute the accents of readers’ living voices.

Her Master’s Voice

In a 1926 introductory note that she wrote as editor of The Dial, Moore contrasts American and British literature by focusing on the differences between American English and standard British English. In it, she emphasizes the importance of “literary fastidiousness,” noting that while “perfect diction is not particularly an attribute of America,” Americans do “excel” “as masters of slang” (Complete Prose, 165). Moore spends the rest of the note detailing the recent publications of the Society for Pure English, a British organization dedicated to the cultivation and study of standard British English, before circling back to the subject of American English:

When in Maine the harbor-master is the habba-masta, when in New York seabirds are seaboids, when as in the Negro vernacular, the tenth becomes the tent, certainly is certainy, and Paris is Parus, the curiosity of the unprofound, with regard to the acoustics of speech, may seem like that of Esquimaux listening for the first time to a phonograph. Our completely fascinated interest in these matters is, however, not to be disguised and our desire to know what topics may occupy the attention of the fastidious, is genuine. (167)

By cycling through various local accents and racialized dialects in this quotation, Moore communicates that elocutionary exactitude is not the exclusive province of speakers of standard British English. Rather, Americans can take a “fastidious” approach to their own language and literature by attending to the intricacies of slang.

Moore encourages thorough attention to (implicitly “low” or nonstandard) accents via a striking metaphor, however, that links elocutionary exactitude with phonograph listening: the experience of attending to American accents, she writes, “may seem like that of Esquimaux listening for the first time to a phonograph.” Here, Moore merges primitivist stereotypes with technological tools of sound recording. This simile casts the person who hears diverse, regional accents for the first time (the author-to-be) as the “Esquimaux” and the sounds of the variety of (regional and ethnic) accents as the “phonograph.” Michael Taussig, in his Mimesis and Alterity, has described how “the phonographic mis en scène is surprisingly common in twentieth-century descriptions of ‘primitive’ people,” citing the famous scene in the 1922 film, Nanook of the North, where the titular character performs his disbelief upon hearing the white man’s phonograph, as one particularly salient example.[36] In Taussig’s reading, “what seems crucial about the fascination with the Other’s fascination with the talking machine is the magic of mechanical reproduction itself . . . To take the talking machine to the jungle is to emphasize and embellish the genuine mystery and accomplishment of mechanical reproduction in an age when technology itself . . . is seen not as mystique or poetry but as routine” (Mimesis and Alterity, 207–8). Moore’s note conjures this famous scene from Nanook of the North to reverse typical power relations—where the cultivated linguistic observer and author would usually be associated with the machine-like objectivity of the phonograph and the regional or ethnic English speaker would be associated with primitive stereotypes and scenes of “mimetic confusion.” In so doing, Moore implicitly elevates the cultural status—and, more importantly, reveals the untapped possibility for literary innovation—inherent to the wide variety of American English accents, and calls for a fastidious approach to American slang and the “unprofound.” At the same time, she uses the body of the native American listener to assume an authorial position of American “nativity,” mediating her American literary ideal through the body of the “Esquimaux.”[37] By portraying this action as a mode of awed phonograph listening, Moore uses the phonograph to isolate accent and tone (the sounds of speech) from both the norms of written language and the mundanity of everyday conversation. At the same time, just as the phonograph, through human processes of production, distribution, and circulation, worked to consolidate cultural identities instead of merely passively recording them, so too, Moore seems to suggest, did the fastidious author need to find a way to unify the variety of diverse accents into something representatively American in order to forge a distinctive American literature.

We can best understand how Moore poetically squares America’s diffuse artistic and national identity with attempts to inscribe and transmit a consolidated American speech and culture in her 1919 poem “England” (Complete Poems, 46–47). In it, what begins as a description of England quickly becomes a poem about the United States, prompted by a close attention to the question of national voicing. Throughout, the poem hinges on the question of the spoken voice’s iterability and reproducibility, particularly as it relates to the issue of “accent.” By connecting voice iterability to national identity, Moore ultimately uses sound reproduction—particularly the sound reproduction of certain standardized accents—to challenge the decentralized logic of American identity.

In the first few lines of the poem, Moore seeks to define England by what it contains, describing England, “with its baby rivers and little towns, each with its abbey or its cathedral, / with voices—one voice perhaps, echoing through the transept—the / criterion of suitability and convenience” (46). In her description, Moore moves from geographic characteristics (rivers) to geographically organized communities (towns) to institutional markers of (faith-based) communities (abbeys and cathedrals) to, finally, “voices.” This progression moves from the physically larger entities to smaller ones and from the non-human world to the human. In the process, however, the things that Moore enumerates become more and more consolidated and monolithic: she moves from diffuse rivers to towns made up of various people to the faithfully-consistent churches. This process relies on the fact that all of these entities—the rivers, the little towns, the churches—are plural yet similar; it is their iterability that makes them nationally coherent. When Moore arrives at the “voices,” however, she pauses, adding, “one voice perhaps.” This aside threatens the logic of plural coherence and iterability that structures her description of “England.” If what initially appear to be “voices” are in fact “one voice,” then English identity is not homogenous because of the similarities of its people and places but rather because one person (the crown) is imposing “one voice.” It is important here that the logic of English national identity breaks down at the level of voices; the poem suggests that voices, unlike rivers, towns, or churches, cannot be duplicated.

By emphasizing how individual voices resist duplication and iterability in these lines, Moore returns to the same problem that is latent within “The Accented Syllable.” However immutable the text’s written “tone of voice” might be, the reader’s spoken voice and unique accent threaten the written (and hence iterable) “tone of voice” that Moore imagines. By focusing on the singularity of each person’s voice, Moore’s poem prefigures the work of Adriana Cavarero, who understands the voice as the measure of uniqueness par excellence. For Cavarero, the voice is always a “plurality of voices” and “always puts forward first of all the who of saying.”[38] However, as Steven Connor points out, the voice differs from other identifying attributes—like eye color or hair color—in that it is not merely something that belongs to the speaker, but rather something produced.[39] This paradox of voicing, where in the voice is something at once belonging to and departing from the speaker, as product—what Connor calls the voice’s “split condition”—is made particularly apparent in the era of recorded sound, wherein one can listen to their own recorded voice (Dumbstruck, 7). “Once the voice as come apart from the moment of its product,” Connor writes, “all voices will henceforth be out of time in the same way” (Dumbstruck, 7). Written in the height of the phonograph era, an era in which the voice became an iterable commodity, Moore’s “England” makes this tension central to her exploration of American identity.

When Moore moves on to discuss subsequent countries, we see a continued focus on how plural, yet iterable entities underlie concepts of nationality. Italy has its “shores,” Greece its “goats” and “gourds,” France its “products,” the East its “snails” and “cockroaches” (Complete Poems, 46). To be sure, these plural entities are linked with the distinctive (and often singular) ethos of each country. However, when Moore arrives in America, the plural entities that underlie the existence of a singular national ethos fail to cohere. Instead, “there / is the [single] little old ramshackle victoria in the south, / where cigars are smoked on the street in the north” (46). The “little old ramshackle victoria in the south” is not replicated in any other location. The cigars, though plural, are smoked on only one street, in another distinct region, the north. That these singular entities are characterized by their geographic location (the south, the north) signals that America’s lack of a distinct national culture derives from its geographical and cultural variability. In the subsequent lines, Moore is only able to locate American forms of plural iterability via negation, writing that in America, “there are no proof readers, no silkworms, no digressions” (46). This peculiar collection of things that do not exist in America is difficult, at first, to interpret jointly. The first item in this list emphasizes America’s lack of centralizing institutions: that there are “no proof readers” in America suggests that the country has no “standard” language and thus no “proof readers” to enforce it. However, Moore’s final item in the list, “no digressions” contradicts this logic. How can America lack both centralizing institutions (like a standard language) and digressions (that is, deviations from what is central)? But Moore’s point is that America possesses a decentralizing logic that is uniquely its own: a nation without digressions is a nation in which all information is relevant—central in its own way. America does not possess one central language because in America everything (and, paradoxically, nothing) is central.

In her subsequent discussion of the United States, Moore returns to the question of voice via a focus on American English. She terms America “the wild man’s land; grassless, linksless, languageless country” (46). In these lines, by defining America in terms of what it lacks (“grass,” “links,” and “language”), Moore again invokes the paradoxical coherence that structures American national identity: it is a “linksless” place, “linked” to its constituent parts only by a consistent lack of linkage. She next extends this peculiar logic of linkless-ness to America’s written language and its readers: “in which letters are written / not in Spanish, not in Greek, not in Latin, not in shorthand / but in plain American which cats and dogs can read!” (46). By characterizing the written American language as a “plain American which cats and dogs can read,” Moore brings to mind her own Jamesian elocution training, wherein American women’s speech was often compared to animal noises. Here, however, America is a “wild man’s land,” not a land of cultivated women representing America abroad through their tone standard. On one hand, this shift to “cats and dogs” mocks the idea of “plain American,” suggesting that American English succeeds so thoroughly in catering to the lowest common denominator of reading and speaking public that even animals can read it. The phrase also, however, links the “wild man” with the “cats and dogs,” hinting that “plain American” is a primarily masculine domain, even when it transcends the bounds of the human and the bounds of typical (human) conceptions of nation-language.

However, Moore’s mention of reading “cats and dogs” simultaneously also points to a common phonograph image, that of the RCA Victor “His Master’s Voice” logo. This well-known image portrays a dog, Nipper, quizzically listening to a phonograph, with the text “His Master’s Voice” written below it.[40] By showing a loyal canine companion listening to the voice of an absent—and, by implication, dead—master, the RCA Victor logo reveals the intimate link between the phonograph, absence, speech, and writing at play in the era. Alexander Weheliye has argued that by creating a gap between the moment of utterance and the moment of reception, the phonograph revealed “the absence that enable’s sound’s iterability” (Phonographies, 31). “In order for human vocalization to continue in its role as unmediated presence,” Weheliye contends, “the sounds of the phonograph had to necessarily be yoked to writing” (31). In other words, by transforming into an iterable entity, the recorded voice became something more akin to writing than to speech; in the process, it also became associated with absence and death, instead of liveness and presence. In the RCA Victor logo, the phonograph record makes the absent master’s voice “iterable,” and hence into a form of writing; it thus allows “cats and dogs” to “read” the grooves of the phonograph record by way of the ear. By portraying the American language as something which cats and dogs can “read,” then, Moore is pointing to the two crucial influences that sought to make spoken American English iterable and hence nationally representative—James and his vision of women’s elocution training, which sought to standardize American speech, and phonograph records, which could record and reproduce samples of American speech, producing a consolidated American identity via mass circulation. However, in the process of creating an iterable American sonic identity, both of these voice technologies simultaneously threatened the very liveness of the voices that they sought to record and circulate; by consolidating what American voices sounded like, the phonograph and the elocution lesson also threatened to silence those voices that did not conform to set standards.[41]

In the following lines, Moore explicitly contends with both Jamesian elocutionary concerns and the possibility of making accent (and hence “voice”) iterable via inscription. She observes that, “The letter a in psalm and calm when / pronounced with the sound of a in candle, is very noticeable,” before wondering, “why should continents of misapprehension have to be accounted by the fact?” (Complete Poems, 46). Moore elaborates on this thought with another question: “Does it follow that because there are poisonous toadstools / which resemble mushrooms, both are dangerous?” (46). Notably, the pronunciation of the “a” in candle (and the mispronunciation in psalm and calm) echoes the earlier “a” sound of “wild man’s land,” and thereby links the typically American mispronunciation with the wild American man. The poem asserts distance from this nonstandard “a” pronunciation in its assumption that the reader will be familiar with the standard British pronunciation of calm and psalm and unfamiliar with the incorrect pronunciation (and thus need illustration via the candle example), thereby aligning more with the standard British speaker (or academic American woman) than the wild American man. Furthermore, regardless of to whom this mispronunciation might be attributed, and however “noticeable” it might be, Moore questions whether “misapprehension” across continents need result from it. In other words, Moore wonders whether a slight variance in pronunciation need distinguish America from Britain, and American English from Standard British English, so thoroughly. However, although Moore’s first question makes the difference between accents a relatively unimportant issue—a mere “misapprehension” between continents—her second question elevates the stakes of this mispronunciation to a matter of life and death, linking it with “poisonous toadstools,” instead.

The ominous image of the toadstool, of a slight difference between objects (rather like slight differences in accent) that nonetheless has dire consequences, initiates a crucial shift in the following stanza. Here, the poem’s implicit preference for standard British English dissipates, and Moore suggests that “to have misapprehended the matter, is to have confessed that one has not looked far enough,” thus criticizing the reader who understands plain American English only via the narrow perspective of the English-speaking world (47). This view, which sees only its own English-speaking nation (as standard) and the nation that deviates from it (the United States), “has not looked far enough” to see the variety of other linguistic influences on American speech, including the “sublimated wisdom of China” or the “compressed” “verbs of the Hebrew language” (47). By making the pronunciation of “a” into a metonymic stand-in for a dichotomy between standard and nonstandard language, between England and America, the previous stanza thus fails to register how the decentralized logic of the United States works to incorporate global influences into its pronunciation, language, and country—one that goes beyond typical nation-based conceptions of language, and more importantly, beyond the Anglophone world. When Moore ends the poem, “It has never been confined to one locality,” she hints at how the expansive, negatively defined, and generalized concept of “America” has exceeded the nation-based mode of thinking and voicing that began the poem, and thus deconstructed the premise of a poem that promised to be about “England,” and other countries only so far as they deviated from an English standardized norm (47).

However, there is one crucial, albeit slight problem with the poem’s triumphant ending. The very thing that launches Moore’s digression from the subject of England in the first stanza—England’s failure to produce iterable and thus nationally representative voices—is precisely what the poem accomplishes in its description of American English. By inscribing the distinction between the sound of “a” in “calm and psalm” and the sound of “a” in “candle” within the written poem, Moore makes the poem into a literary technology that can reproduce a representative American accent in written form. It is the very reproducibility of American voices—via the phonograph, the elocution lesson, or the poem—that ultimately deconstructs the poem’s decentralizing logic of America, a nation supposedly so devoid of a standard form of language that even cats and dogs can speak it. By using the poem to reproduce a representative American accent, Moore demonstrates how both old and new technologies of voice inscription threaten the infinite diversity of speech purportedly at the core of American national identity. This inscribed American accent, like the small, but nonetheless poisonous toadstools that Moore compares it to, ultimately circumscribes the growth of an expanding American English, thereby stifling a national identity that could be defined only by its limitless mutability.

Conclusion: Marianne Moore’s Phonograph Recordings

In December of 1941, Moore met with Frederick Packard, Jr., Harvard Professor of Public Speech, to make her first phonograph recording. With Packard’s assistance, she recorded three of her poems: “Virginia Britannia,” “Rigorists,” and “Spenser’s Ireland.”[42] Packard had started recording poetry in 1932, beginning officially with a recording of T. S. Eliot. Packard’s project, the creation of what he termed the Harvard “Vocarium,” sought to create both a “collection of voice recordings for use as a study aid in the appreciation of literature” and a place to listen to those recordings, where “recordings of voices are kept and used for study and enjoyment” (Frederick Clifton Packard, quoted in “A Discography,” 5). The Vocarium began selling its recordings in 1933 and many of Packard’s recordings were later repurposed by the Library of Congress, which began recording poets reading their own work more than ten years later, in 1943.[43]

Moore had only recently begun to read her poetry publicly, in 1936. By 1940, despite her shyness and dislike of crowds, however, she had become comfortable in her role as a public poet, telling her brother after one performance that she “seemed ‘entirely natural’ and un-nervous,” and detailing how she received plenty of laughs from the audience (Leavell, Holding On Upside Down, 311). However, critics of Moore’s live readings often complained of her monotone speaking style, noting how difficult it was to distinguish her poetry from plain speech. The problem, for many critics, was that Moore’s poetry seemed to resist being read well, if at all. Donald Hall, for instance, writes that, “Marianne Moore’s tuneless drone was as eccentric as her inimitable art. When she spoke between poems, she mumbled in the identical monotone. Since she frequently revised or cut her things, a listener had to concentrate, to distinguish poems from talk.”[44] Richard Swigg suggests that in Moore’s readings, “a languid delivery is often at odds with the enunciating dexterity required by the poems.”[45] Hugh Kenner posits that Moore’s dense syllabic verse necessitated that she read her poems “badly,” writing that, “her poems are not for the voice . . . Handwriting flows with the voice, and here the voice is as synthetic as the cat, not something an elocutionist can modulate. The words on these pages are little, regular blocks, set apart by spaces, and referable less to the voice than to the click of the keys and the ratcheting of the carriage.”[46]

The Packard recording process proved to be particularly difficult for Moore, perhaps because he approached Moore’s poetry with the ear of an elocutionist.[47] In a letter written just after her Harvard visit, Moore mentions the experience with some dismay, writing, “I ought not to give it away, but Harvard was devastating, from the time I arrived until the last touch when Professor Packard said, ‘These things have to be rehearsed.’”[48] Packard’s remark shows that he was less than impressed with Moore’s recording session, and that he felt her status as the poem’s author did not grant her any special reading privilege. In another letter, written to her cousin after a month of reflection, Moore describes her experience with Packard in some detail, this time with considerably more levity, describing how Packard “kindly [suggested] that a-n-d is not pronounced ‘ant’ and ‘blackening’ is not ‘blackning’ and soon is not ‘sue-en,’” and had Moore repeat a tongue-twister several times over before recording.[49] While we might expect that a project rooted in the poet’s reading of her own work might be more interested in capturing the idiosyncrasies of the poet’s voice than with her elocutionary skill, this letter shows just how little that was the case for Packard. In his correction of her word pronunciation, Packard treats Moore less as an artist whose reading might express an important dimension of her poetry, and more as an amateur reader who could use considerable elocution instruction to do her own poetry justice.

When Moore finally heard the recording in 1944, she expressed her pleasure with it in a letter to Packard. In it, Moore largely focuses on the edifying value of the recordings, taking on the role of a proper elocution student:

Technically—if I may say so—the recording is a triumph; there is no swish; no abrupt changes in volume disrupt the continuity; in fact I detect no extraneous influence upon the sound.

With regard to my part of the making, I notice lack of flexibility (i. e. a slight effect of panic) and a fading conclusion to phrases, as in the words “humility” and “pedestal.” These defects will be helpful to me. I could, I hope, mend them now that I am aware of them . . . Your saving suggestion that it is desirable to have a certain rapt confidence in what one is reading, gave this Harvard recording its value, I feel; and will be permanently helpful to me.

I admire here, the timings of the divisions between poems. The tempo has surprising verisimilitude, and I notice the delicacy of the microphone in catching the second “d” in “grandmother’d.” I am thankful to you for having helped me to avoid tewm for tomb; indeed my debt to you is larger and more indelible than I could ever say. I could not have imagined that caricature could have been redeemed into plausibility as you redeemed it by your help with diction, the evening you made the recording.[50]

Moore’s letter—despite her earlier dread over her performance—operates not from the stance of a poet-performer, but rather from that of an impartial (and particularly sound-quality-concerned) observer, as she first comments on questions of “volume” and sound interference. Even when it comes to her own “part of the making,” Moore exhibits a marked critical distance from the process, as she evaluates her own voice for “flexibility,” tone quality, and correct pronunciation. By coyly referencing the words “humility” and “pedestal,” moreover, Moore at once seems to point to and to approve of Packard’s diminishment of her writerly authority. Throughout the letter, that is, Moore approaches the recording as a form of elocution instruction, a tool that will aid her in bettering her future readings according to certain predetermined general elocutionary standards. It is only by way of these elocutionary standards and techniques, Moore suggests, that her poetic recordings might achieve sonic “plausibility”—perhaps echoing the monotone style of her live readings—rather than remaining mere vocal “caricature,” a theatrical expression of the poet’s speaking self.[51]

By recording her poetry on the phonograph, Moore actualized a principle that lies at the core of her poetics and, in turn, at the core of New Critical modes of reading. Inscribing her poetry’s “voice” according to elocutionary norms on the phonograph record, that “scriptal spiral that disappears in the center, in the opening of the middle, but in return survives in time” as Adorno defines it, Moore articulated the empty center at the heart of the dramatic fiction of the lyric: the poetic speaker.[52] To inscribe and consolidate a distinctively American rhythm, to transmit an immutable written “tone of voice,” Moore recognized, was to imagine a poetry that could be sounded but never voiced by any unique individual. By combining the technologies of elocution and phonography, Moore discovered a method by which to record poetic speech without making any record of the speaker. In so doing, she converted her living, authorial voice into a circulating record of an American poetic tradition, becoming exactly the sort of precise tone re/producer that she had once envisioned.


[1] Marianne Moore to Hildegarde Watson, August 30, 1964, in “Marianne Moore, Letters to Hildegarde Watson (1933–1964),” ed. Cyrus Hoy, University of Rochester Library Bulletin 29, no. 2 (1976): n.p..

[2] Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry,” The Major Works, ed. Michael O’Neill and Zachary Leader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 680.

[3] Moore had originally made the recording that she heard that night for the purposes of phonograph listening. Because this essay is interested in Moore’s approach to recording poetry, I will primarily focus on Moore’s engagement with the phonograph (rather than her experience with the radio). For more on how modernist literature was shaped by the advent of the radio, see Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde, ed. Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992); Broadcasting Modernism, ed. Debra Rae Cohen, Michael Coyle, and Jane Lewty (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009); and Melissa Dinsman, Modernism at the Microphone: Radio, Propaganda, and Literary Aesthetics During World War II (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

[4] For more on Moore’s engagement with England throughout her career, see Tara Stubbs, “‘Its native surroundings’: Marianne Moore, England, and the idea of the ‘characteristic American,’” Modernist Cultures 11, no. 1 (2016): 48–64.

[5] Here, I echo Alexander Weheliye’s claim that, in materializing sound, sound technology simultaneously rematerialized its “human source,” highlighting “the ways in which any sound re/production is technological, whether it emanates from the horn of a phonograph, a musical score, or a human body” (Alexander G. Weheliye, Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005], 7).

[6] See Bonnie Costello, Marianne Moore, Imaginary Possessions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981); Linda Leavell, Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts: Prismatic Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995); Elizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux, “Women Looking: The Feminist Ekphrasis of Marianne Moore and Adrienne Rich,” in Twentieth-Century Poetry and the Visual Arts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 80–108. For an exception to this critical trend, see Cristianne Miller, “An ‘Unintelligible Vernacular’: Questions of Voice,” in Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 61–92.

[7] Herbert F. Tucker, “Dramatic Monologue and the Overhearing of Lyric,” in Lyric Poetry: Beyond New Criticism, ed. Chaviva Hošek and Patricia Parker (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), 226–43, 241.

[8] Ezra Pound, “Marianne Moore and Mina Loy,” in The Critical Response to Marianne Moore, ed. Elizabeth Gregory (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), 22–23, 22–23.

[9] T. S. Eliot, “Marianne Moore,” Critical Response, 44–45, 44–45.

[10] There are almost too many examples of this critical assessment to include. In her recent article “Is American Poetry Still a Thing?,” which probes the validity of studying poetry in terms of its nation of origin, Stephanie Burt uses Moore’s poetry (specifically the mode of connoisseurship presented in her “Critics and Connoisseurs”) to justify the continued study of American poems, suggesting that “even if ‘American poetry,’ in the singular, is no longer a thing, we can go on, in some ways we must go on, treating individual poems as transmissible, durable, interpretable, appreciable, plural things” (“Is American Poetry Still A Thing?,” American Literary History 28, no. 2 [2016]: 271–284, 284). Critics have long found something emblematically American in Moore’s poetry, however. R. P. Blackmur calls Moore “not alone but characteristic in American literature” (Critical Response, 123). In her 1948 “American Timeless,” Louise Bogan calls Moore “American to her backbone,” writing that “the ephemeral and the provincial become durable and civilized in her hands” (Critical Response, 144–45). Hugh Kenner suggests that Moore and Williams “were the inventors of an American poetry,” describing how Moore made the “revolutionary discovery” of “the language flattened, the language exhibited, the language staunchly condensing information” which constitute “the elements of a twentieth-century American poetic, a pivotal discovery of our age” (Critical Response, 250, emphasis in original). In her Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possession (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), Bonnie Costello discusses how Moore functions as an explicitly “American artist,” relating her to both Henry James and Ralph Waldo Emerson (246–51). Numerous critics have also read Moore’s poetry via the institutions she inhabited and engaged with, particularly the museum. For a reading of Moore’s “inter-institutional” status between the academy and the museum, see Ellen Levy, Criminal Ingenuity: Moore, Cornell, Ashbery, and the Struggle Between the Arts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). See also Catherine Paul, “Discovery, not Salvage” and Anne Raine, “Still Life in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Nature, Modernity, and Marianne Moore” in Critical Response, 175–181.

[11] Marianne Moore, “Enquiry,” in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore (New York: Viking Penguin, 1986), 675, emphasis in original.

[12] Gavin Jones, Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 3. See also Joshua L. Miller, Accented America: The Cultural Politics of Multilingual Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Michael North, The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language, and Twentieth-Century Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

[13] For a fuller history of the relationship between poetic rhythm and race in the twentieth century, see Michael Golston, Rhythm and Race in Modernist Poetry and Science (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 1–58.

[14] Michael Denning, Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution (New York: Verso, 2015), 2, 7.

[15] Denning writes that, “I will call this the vernacular music revolution because it is analogous to the tectonic shift from Latin to the European vernacular languages in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Just as Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press made possible the flowering of vernacular language publishing, and eventually marginalized the learned lingua franca of medieval Latin (embodied ironically in Gutenberg’s own Latin Bible), so the electrical gramophone quickly enfranchised the musical vernaculars of the world, and turned the notation-based European concert music of 1600 to 1900 into a new Latin, a henceforth ‘classical’ music (embodied in sound recording’s equivalent to the Gutenberg Bible, the Victor discs of the opera arias sung by Enrico Caruso)” (Noise 7).

[16] Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006), 78–79.

[17] Here, Gitelman resituates a phrase of Miriam Hansen’s, who uses it in the context of American cinema: “By forging a mass market out of an ethnically and culturally heterogeneous society, if often at the expense of racial others, American classical cinema had developed an idiom, or idioms, that travelled more easily than its national-popular rivals. . . . American movies of the classical period offered something like the first global vernacular” (Miriam Bratu Hansen, “The Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism,” Modernism/Modernity 6, no. 2 [1999]: 59–77, 68).

[18] See Amy Dunham Strand, Language, Gender, and Citizenship in American Literature, 1789–1919 (New York: Routledge, 2009).

[20] See Gitelman, Always Already New, 70–71. For more on the national-cultural importance of women’s voices at the turn of the century, see Strand, Language, Gender and Citizenship; Levander, Voices of the Nation; and Kenneth Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence: The Fight for Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

[21] Although James was not unique in his focus on the link between American culture and American women’s speech, it was he who exerted the most influence on Moore’s thought on the matter. We see this influence not only in Moore’s “The Accented Syllable,” but also in a later essay that she penned in 1934, wherein she names James a “Characteristic American” primarily because of his focus on conversation and American speech. For more on James’s influence on Moore, see Tara Stubbs, “‘Its native surroundings,’” 58, 62; Patrick Redding, “‘One must make a distinction, however’: Marianne Moore and Democratic Taste,” Twentieth Century Literature 58, no. 2 (2012): 296–332, especially 305–307; Linda Leavell, Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 78–9, 275–76; David Ross Anderson, “The Woman in the Tricorn Hat: Political Theory and Biological Portraiture in Marianne Moore’s Poetry,” Journal of Modern Literature 22, no. 1 (1998): 31–45, especially 41–42; and Costello, Marianne Moore, 246–251.

[22] Bryn Mawr’s elocution classes were instituted by the president of the college, M. Carey Thomas, who had recently begun to refine her own speech with the British professional elocutionist Samuel Arthur King. Thomas would later put these skills to use, giving speeches as part of the women’s suffrage movement. Thomas’s practiced (and sometimes unusual) pronunciations were of particular interest to Moore during her time at Bryn Mawr: she kept a notebook that detailed Thomas’s remarks, writing that “the Dean said to pronounce blouse, blooze and of course B double E N, bean, and w-e-r-e ware” (recounted in Lowell, Holding on Upside Down, 66). I have drawn my information on Bryn Mawr’s elocution instruction from two dissertations written on the matter: Marjan A Van Schaik, The Required Composition and Rhetoric Course at Bryn Mawr College, 1885–1920: Liberal Cultural and Current-Traditional Rhetoric, (Ph.D. Diss., Pennsylvania State University, 2001), 104–110, and D’Ann Pletcher George, The Bryn Mawr Woman: Composition and the Composing of a Voice During the M. Carey Thomas Years, 1885–1916 (Ph.D. Diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1997), 85, 100.

[23] Samuel Arthur King, Graduated Exercises in Articulation (Boston, MA: Small, Maynard & Company, 1915), vii.

[24] Henry James, “The Question of Our Speech,” in Henry James, Henry James on Culture: Collected Essays on Politics and the American Social Scene, ed. Pierre A. Walker (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 42–57, 52.

[25] Henry James, “The Speech of American Women,” in Henry James on Culture, 58–81, 64. Originally published in Harper’s Bazar 40.11 (1906): 979–82; 40.12 (1906): 1103–06; 41.1 (1907): 17–21; 41.2 (1907): 113–17.

[26] Strand argues that James uses “the gendered structure of the family to figure the ‘adventure of our idiom,’” framing the English language as both “orphaned female and immigrant” (Language, Gender and Citizenship, 151).

[27] Merve Emre, Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 25–32. See Jones, Strange Talk, 80–98.

[28] Moore’s relationship with indigenous American peoples was a complicated one. Shortly after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1909, Moore began teaching at the Carlisle Indian School, an institution that sought to separate indigenous Americans from their native cultures, and which forced them to speak in a standardized American English. Sheldon Jackson, who infamously fought to suppress native American languages and worked extensively with indigenous communities in Alaska, was a close family friend of Moore’s. He appears in one of Moore’s poem, “Rigorists,” in which she credits him for “preventing the extinction / of the Eskimo” (Marianne Moore, The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore [New York: Macmillan, 1967], 96). In 1941, Moore would choose to read “Rigorists” when making her first phonograph recording for the Harvard Vocarium. For more on Moore’s involvement with the Carlisle Indian School, see Lesley Wheeler and Chris Gavaler, “Impostors and Chameleons: Marianne Moore and the Carlisle Indian School,” Paideuma 33, no. 2/3 (2004): 53–82 and Siobhan Phillips, “The Students of Marianne Moore,” Poetry Foundation, March 14, 2017. For more on the relationship between the phonograph, ethnography, and indigenous Americans in the first half of the twentieth century, see Roshanak Kheshti, Modernity’s Ear: Listening to Race and Gender in World Music (New York: NYU Press, 2015) and Brian Hochman, Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

[29] See Gitelman, Always Already New, 15.

[30] See Steve J. Wurtzler, Electric Sounds: Technological Change and the Rise of Corporate Mass Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 124.

[31] See Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 262.

[32] See Michael Chanan, Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and its Effects on Music (New York: Verso, 1995), 3 and Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past, 250–261.

[33] For Sterne, the tone tests indicated a shift in attitude towards sound technology, wherein “the desire for sound-reproduction technologies to capture reality and faithfully reproduce it . . . gave way to the use of those technologies to fashion an aesthetic realism worthy of listeners’ faith” (The Audible Past, 246).

[34] I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment (New York: Routledge, 2017) 175, original italics removed.

[35] Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 41, emphasis in original.

[36] Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 1993), 199. See also Weheliye, Phonographies, 28.

[37] By using Native American bodies to bolster an American literary identity, Moore echoes (and modifies) the actions of the U.S. government in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Sterne describes, “after decades of pursuing genocidal politics toward native Americans, the U.S. government and other agencies began in the 1890s to employ anthropologists, who would use sound recording to ‘capture and store’ the music and language of their native subjects. . . . Embedded in this anthropological project,” Sterne writes, “were loaded conceptions of American culture as embodying a universal tendency toward ‘progress’ that would simply engulf Native American life along the way” (The Audible Past, 27).

[38]Adriana Cavarero, For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression, trans. Paul A. Kottman, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 30, emphasis in original.

[39] Steven Connor, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 3.

[40] See Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, 210–224 for an alternative reading of this image.

[41] For more on the relationship between poetry, sound recording, and death, see Allen S. Weiss, Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002). In it, Weiss suggests that with the advent of sound recording, “the corporeal lyricism of life cedes its hold on poetry, and a new lyricism arises from the morbid disembodiment of the voice” (83).

[42] Josephine Packard “A Discography of the Harvard Vocarium,” Harvard Library Bulletin 15, vols. 3–4 (2004): 5–138, 76.

[43] For more on poetic recordings in the twentieth century, including the Library of Congress recordings, see Derek Furr, Recorded Poetry and Poetic Reception from Edna Millay to the Circle of Robert Lowell (New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2010).

[44] Donald Hall, “Thank you, Thank you,” New Yorker, October 26, 2012.

[45] Richard Swigg, Quick, Said the Bird: Williams, Eliot, Moore and the Spoken Word (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2012), xv. Swigg also collects a list of Moore’s known readings and recordings and conducts a variety of sound-based close readings of Moore’s poetry.

[46] Hugh Kenner, A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975), 98.

[47] In his focus on Moore’s elocutionary abilities, Packard diverged from contemporaneous approaches to poetry readings, which sought to amplify the poet’s personality, authenticity, and expressivity. As Lesley Wheeler details, from the 1920s onwards, “a shift was occurring in how poetry was sounded as emphasis was changing from recitation skills to the delivery of authorial presence” (Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to Present [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008], 44). For more on the on the history of the poetry reading in the twentieth century, see Peter Middleton, Distant Reading: Performance, Readership, and Consumption in Contemporary Poetry (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005); Raphael Allison, Bodies on the Line: Performance and the Sixties Poetry Reading (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014); Christopher Grobe, “The Breath of the Poem: Confessional Print/Performance circa 1959” PMLA 127, no. 2 (2012): 215–230; Christopher Grobe, “On Book: The Performance of Reading,” New Literary History 47, no. 4 (2016): 567–589; and Marit J. MacArthur, “Monotony, the Churches of Poetry Reading, and Sound Studies,” PMLA 131, no. 1 (2016): 38–63.

[48] Marianne Moore to Hildegarde Watson, December 13, 1941, in “Marianne Moore, Letters to Hildegarde Watson (1933–1964),” n.p..

[49] Marianne Moore to Mary Craig Shoemaker, January 5, 1942, quoted in Linda Leavell, “Marianne Moore: Poet and Performer,” (presentation, Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, November 13, 2014). Shoemaker was Moore’s cousin. Thank you to Linda Leavell for providing the exact quotation.

[50] Marianne Moore to Professor [Frederick] Packard, May 8, 1944, quoted in Linda Leavell, “Marianne Moore: Poet and Performer.”

[51] Moore’s use of “caricature” perhaps references the performative displays of authenticity that had become common in poetry readings of the time. See, for instance, Wheeler’s description of Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose theatrical poetry readings enacted a “performance of presence” (Voicing American Poetry, 38–59).

[52] Theodor Adorno, “The Form of the Phonograph Record,” trans. Thomas Y. Levin, October 55 (1990): 56–61, 60.